Since school times, I am sure we have been aware of all the seven continents on Earth. However, geologists believe that Europe and Asia which are together known as Eurasia, form one geologic continent (studies based on rock structure), making a total of six continents. But you would be surprised to know that recently according to a study, a new geologic continent has been discovered. Eureka! It’s called the Zealandia.
All about Zealandia:
The possible existence of Zealandia was first suggested in 1995. The geologists claim that this continent was hidden and virtually invisible to the human eye for millions of years, until now. The 11 researchers behind the study claim that New Zealand and New Caledonia aren’t simply an island chain. These are rather a part of 4.9 million kilometre square land slab that is quite distinct from the continent of Australia. In a research paper from the Geological Society of America’s Journal, GSA Today, geologists say “Zealandia measured 1.9 million square miles, 94% of which is underwater.” It is well-defined, elevated above the surrounding area and has a crust much thicker than the ocean floor. The data also suggests that Zealandia spans approximately the area of greater India, or a larger area than Madagascar, New Guinea, Greenland, or other micro-continents.
So why is Zealandia being considered as a continent, while India is not?
The authors explain that while India is big enough to be a continent, and probably used to be, it is now a part of Eurasia because it collided and stuck to that continent millions of years ago. However, Zealandia has not smashed into Australia yet and a piece of seafloor called the Cato Trough still separates the two continents by 25 kilometres. Besides, researchers have found that the rock samples suggest Zealandia is made of the same continental crust that used to be part of Gondwana; and that it migrated in ways similar to the continents of Antarctica and Australia. The samples and satellite data also show that Zealandia is not a collection of smaller individual continents, but a separate unified slab of land. Today, only about 5 percent of it is visible as the islands of New Zealand and New Caledonia – which is a part of the reason as to why it took so long to discover Zealandia!
What importance will Zealandia have in the long run?
One of the scientists suggests that “The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list.” Seems like Zealandia ,being discovered as a new continent can have a lot of political and economic consequences. Indeed, United Nations agreements would make specific mentions of continental boundaries to decide which nations can extract offshore resources.
Till then, let’s wait and appreciate the magnitude and hope for many such discoveries in the near future.